European Commission, dialogue and transparency

Transparency doesn’t always seem to mean the same thing. In the Merriam-Webster Dictionary transparency is defined as

“the quality or state of being transparent”

which leave the reader a little bit at a loss. The Business Dictionary gives a fuller description:

And finally in Wikipedia we can read that:

Transparency, as used in science, engineering, business, the humanities and in a social context more generally, implies openness, communication, and accountability. Transparency is operating in such a way that it is easy for others to see what actions are performed.

So we can say that openness is paramount for any organisation that want to qualify as transparent in its actions.

Which is when we come to the European Commission, in particular the Directorate General for Trade because there it seems like transparency equals talking to lobbyists. But at least they do so in the open.

Now let it be known, I haven’t got a problem with lobbying or lobbyists. On the contrary, lobbyists can bring information to the legislative process. But I want them to work in the open and that organisations like the European Commission and the European Parliament to publicly report whom they (we) are meeting with and when.

So now back to the initial question: what is transparency?

The question begs to be asked because apparently elected representatives (and their staff) for Europe’s citizens  doesn’t qualify to participate when DG Trade invites representatives from the Civil Society.

I happen to know this because of a minor exchange myself and a few of my colleagues had with DG Trade just before the summer. There was to be what is called a Civil Society Dialogue meeting, this is a regular meeting between the civil society and the European Commission to discuss aspects of Europe’s trade policy. Something that is very much in vogue right now since a new round of Trans-Atlantic Trade Negotiations have started. Anyway, we were a few from the European Parliament that wanted to participate as observers in this meeting and subsequently contacted the responsible at the Commission asking for practical information. Judge to our surprise when we were told that we were not welcome. The meeting was only open to not-for-profit civil society organisations aka lobbyists. We pointed out that we represented what could be considered the civil society at large i.e. the citizens of Europe and that the European Commission frequently participate in meetings at the European Parliament so surely that openness should be reciprocal? But our arguments were stated to deaf ears.

So in other words, the DG Trade doesn’t consider the citizens of Europe (and their representatives) as the civil society and that transparency is only for lobbyists in their professional capacity. Isn’t that strange?

Below are two links to the dialogue and ongoing consultations:

2 responses to “European Commission, dialogue and transparency

  1. Can I suggest you note the chapters in the Chartered Institute of Public Relations book, Published by Kogan Page, in which Philip Young and I write on the nature of internet transparency (and radical transparency) at length.
    This is a research based response to your question and may be of value.
    Prof David Phillips FCIPR

    Gilla

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